Like so much else from India, the practice of yoga is constantly evolving
Yoga may have been developed in India as a holistic routine to develop harmony among mind, body and spirit, but things have come a long way from the traditional cultural and meditative asanas of the past. With modern yoga practice, anything goes. Today’s yoga styles range from the fairly mainstream – hot or Bikram yoga, as well as prenatal yoga or mums and bubs yoga, to the more exotic tantric yoga, acro yoga and pole dancing yoga. There’s nude yoga, doga (doing yoga with your dog), and as marijuana becomes more freely available and legal across the United States, there is now even cannabis yoga!
Ahead of International Yoga Day, Indian Link explored the various possibilities and opportunities attached to various forms of yoga practice.
Spirit of India (NSW) is a non-profit organisation based in Sydney which expounds the traditional virtues of yoga as a holistic lifestyle practice. Suresh Khatav, the founder of the organisation, believes yoga should become a priority in everyone’s lives.
“Nowadays life is so complicated,” Khatav says. “Yoga can help people in this situation; it can be preventative and assist in reducing stress.”
“Yoga also makes you a better person,” Khatav says. “You become more calm and quiet and it contributes to your physical, mental and social wellbeing.”
Khatav, along with his wife Chaaya and a team of volunteers, runs low-cost yoga classes throughout seven locations across Sydney. Classes cater to children, adults and seniors with students ranging in age from five to 90 plus. “We have five or six students who are in their nineties,” Khatav says. Classes for children cost just $40 for four months and are completely free for senior citizens 55 years plus. Adults, who are earning an income, pay a nominal amount to help cover costs.
A yoga devotee for more than 25 years and a teacher for the past 12 years, Khatav’s philosophy is that yoga assists people in achieving their optimum condition and preventing many diseases. “When you reach a peak state, the benefit is not just for you, but for your whole family and the wider community,” he explains. “If more people practiced yoga, then society would be able to lower the amount we spend on health care and redirect it to development.”
As part of International Yoga Day, Spirit of India has partnered with the Hindu Council of Australia for their event in Parramatta. A team of volunteers will help lead an afternoon session of yoga practice on the day while Suresh will travel to Melbourne to speak at the 8th annual International Yoga Conference. “Yoga is a platform to unite the community,” Khatav concludes.
Speaking with Christine Contacos, you would never know she was up at 4am to squeeze in a yoga practice. After being introduced to yoga as a 17 year old, Contacos has been connected to yoga for more than 30 years. Although her practice has been sporadic throughout that time, after moving to Sydney in 2000, Contacos became reacquainted with Iyengar yoga and has made room in her life for more regular practice.
“What I like about yoga is that you can tailor it to your specific needs,” Contacos explains. “No matter what stage of life you’re at, you can adapt to what your body and mind needs.”
Contacos has recently committed to practising at least 15 minutes of simple exercises a day to develop her skills. “I have also become more spiritual of late,” she says. “I am becoming more aware of mindfulness, again I think it depends on your needs at the time.”
One of the most appealing aspects of yoga for Contacos is that it’s not competitive – “It’s about treating your body with respect.”
Yoga by donation
Crawf Weir, founder of Barefoot Yoga in Sydney’s Paddington, first found yoga after exhausting all other therapies for his chronic back injury.
After discovering daily yoga practice helped his back pain, and feeling much happier with his life, after two years Weir quit his corporate career to become a yoga teacher.
Originally from England, Weir combined his knowledge of business with his passion for yoga to start his own studio. After learning about the ‘yoga by donation’ method being popularised in the United States, Weir was inspired to bring the concept to Australia.
“The premise of yoga by donation is to make it accessible to everyone,” Weir says. “Yoga can be expensive and exclusive, whereas I want to make it affordable and inclusive.”
Students at the studio are asked to contribute roughly $10 to $20 per class or make a “fair donation” based on how much they can afford and how often they attend classes. This means social or financial status don’t preclude people from taking part. Working on a kind of karma-based system, the teachers are paid directly from donations.
“I totally believe in the system,” Weir says. “People respect it and appreciate what you’re doing. I’m sure there are a few people who might take advantage, but it doesn’t matter because there are others who give generously so you can achieve that balance.”
Weir began his yoga journey with a strong physical practice, but over time has incorporated more elements of meditation and mindfulness.
“Yoga is a personal journey for everybody,” Weir says. “People love what we do, our donation approach, and they think the teachers and studio are great. We get lots of positive feedback.”
Weir has been looking forward to celebrating the United Nations World Yoga Day on Bondi Beach. “It is going to be an honour and a pleasure to take part along with all the other fantastic yoga teachers.”
Releasing your inhibitions
Most people completely baulk at the idea of doing anything naked, much less something as physical as yoga, but, at Twisting Peacock Yoga in Perth, Melissa Howard has embraced the notion.
Six months ago, Howard’s teacher Rosie Rees came to her with the idea of naked yoga.
“There was a mixed reaction, definitely,” Howard says. “People said ‘No way!’ ‘Hell, no!’ but they’ve all come around.”
A qualified relationship coach and sexologist, Rees teaches restorative, Kundalini, Hatha yoga in the two-hour long classes.
Attendees are taken through a series of modest sitting and laying poses along with meditative breathing exercises in a darkened room lit with candles, accompanied by gentle music.
“There’s no downward dog or anything like that!” Howard explains.
“It’s all about empowering people. The aim and goal is for women to destroy all the negative images they have of themselves – it’s a really liberating experience.”
Reinforcing body acceptance, the three classes held so far have been fully booked, welcoming students ranging in age from 21 to a woman in her fifties.
The next class, which is fast filling up, will be held on International Yoga Day. “It’s perfect timing,” Howard acknowledges.
“There are tears, and lots of giggles, but it’s a really beautiful practice where we have women celebrating the perfectly imperfect.”
Finding yoga classes at the local gym ten years ago, Howard admits she was initially drawn to the practice for its physical advantages. “I had some body image issues and I saw people who did yoga as toned and flexible,” Howard explains. “Slowly but surely, the teachers weaved in the spiritual aspects and I began to feel the benefits of the meditation as well.” This lead to Howard opening her own yoga studio which runs predominantly hot power yoga classes up to 20 times a week. Though, with the success of the naked yoga classes, Rosie Rees and her partner will soon expand their lessons to include a two hour couple’s workshop. “There are also talks of running a mixed class in the future,” Howard says.
While not yet popular in Australia, (there is Naked Yoga Sydney billed as “classes for men interested in the practice of yoga without the restrictions of clothing”), Nude Yoga USA in Arizona hold co-ed naked yoga classes three times a week. So, watch this space.
Walking on water
It’s physically demanding at the best of times, so why would you try throwing standing up on a paddle board into the yoga mix?! That’s exactly what Catherine Moore, along with Di Morrison, does as part of SUP Yoga Sydney or Stand Up Paddle boarding yoga.
Moore began practicing yoga as a teen and continued throughout her twenties as a means of sustaining herself through injury. After finding life as a diving instructor too physically demanding, she followed her passions of teaching and yoga and combined it with her love of paddle boarding.
“It’s the same poses and postures, but certain postures are more challenging on the board,” Moore admits. “With our SUP yoga classes we usually start with beginner sequences even for seasoned yogis because it’s difficult learning to balance on the board.”
Most people who try SUP yoga have never tried conventional yoga and those who participate range from children right through to people in their seventies.
“People fall off all the time,” Moore says. “It’s about having fun and learning.”
Whichever form of yoga takes your fancy, be sure to join in the celebrations for International Yoga Day.